poems by Mitchell Grabois




I was poisoned in 2009

I cannot be poisoned again


Poison comes in many forms

Some of it is white powder

Some of it blows in the wind

Some is traceable, some not


I was poisoned in 2009

I cannot be poisoned again



On the face of a mountain in Provence

is a defunct troglodyte village

My aunt was the last inhabitant

She died in 1948

Meth heads now shit

in the caves that were their homes


I stand on top of the troglodyte mountain

look out at a nuclear plant

fall to my knees and worship the cooling towers


I have returned to my roots

to my rightful inheritance

I descend the steep path

to the trog village


I sweep out my aunt’s

cave with a straw broom



As a child I sat inside

my aunt’s troglodyte home

eating rock candy she made with a string

and sugar solution

Candlelight flickered on her face


I was in love with a girl

who lived three caves away

Her father closely guarded the pig

he kept in a shelter just outside

The girl was quite a bit older than me

already a teenager

She showed me her breasts

They were white and cool

Everywhere else her skin was rough and dirty



When I was nine I wrote a three-page treatise:

Why I Am an Atheist


At fourteen I decided my fate:

to be a hermit in the desert


I built a shack

and learned to squeeze water from rocks

My friends were horned toads, lizards and scorpions

We sat on the floor of my shack

and talked about the FBI’s definition of dangerousness

and how it is best predicted


The scorpion seemed especially knowledgeable about this

and claimed to be an informant for spies

from three countries

though he wouldn’t divulge which ones


A blue rock-lizard said:

You’re full of shit, Scorpion,

 ego and bravado

all the stuff our friend Mitchell moved here to avoid

I don’t care, I told my friends

It might have bothered me at one time

but it doesn’t anymore




Mother Abandoned


After my father abandoned her

Mother moved back to the country

to live with her sister

in the house in which they’d grown up


My aunt was feeble

as she’d been in childhood

but my mother was strong

from all the farm labor she’d done

and still resentful of her sister

whom she considered a malingerer


Mother did some labor for local farmers

who felt sorry for her

She put on overalls and pulled on high boots

Behind her back they called her “Martha the Hired Man”

She worked harder than any of the men

though she could be mean to the animals

if they gave her trouble


The plaster in the farmhouse was cracked

and getting worse

as the house, after a century

continued to settle


Mother bought adjustable metal poles

from Ace Hardware

went into the leaky cellar

did some wrenching

propped up the first floor


All around her were cans

with dribs and drabs of paint

tools rusted on shelves

old baskets decayed


Mother looked over the baskets

and remembered the

Indians who had lived in rough houses

at the border of the property


Spiders made homes in canning jars

The rusty cream separator looked arthritic and thirsty

like Old Man Creighton down the road


The cellar clutter depressed her

She carried the cream separator upstairs

and flung it into the yard

She put her arms around the gasoline-powered

washing machine

–it must have weighed two hundred pounds–

carried it up the rickety stairs


fired up her dad’s ’55 Chevy pickup

and backed it through the yard


She ran over some day lilies her mother had planted

to the consternation of her weak sister

who stood behind the screen door

a handkerchief held to her mouth


Mother hefted the metal

into the truck bed

threw in some pipe

and a well pump

and drove to Padnos’s recycling yard

where she sent it all crashing to the ground


Smoke drifted around her

and a front loader shoved around mountains of junk

Rain was starting to come down


She took the grubby bills the attendant gave her

and drove back to the farmhouse

the truck rattling over every rut






The female Elvis impersonator gets on the plane

her body a crate that

barely fits in the aisle

By the time she finds her seat

she’s fuming so hard

she sympathizes with the

most recent maniac

with an automatic weapon

who opened fire on strangers


She calms herself with vodka tonics

Her wife gently strokes her arm

After the third vodka

Elvis is muttering:

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…

Other Elvis impersonators await her on Vegas stages


She clutches the latest issue of Elvis Impersonator

There are a half-dozen acts she wants to see on this trip

She will sit in her seat

anonymous to them

They won’t know she is one of them

unless she walks up after the show

and introduces herself


but she won’t do it

She knows what their response will be:

a bored look

They don’t have her dedication, her devotion

To them, it’s become just a job

They don’t have Elvis in them

the way she does

in her blocky, powerful body


She always feels let down by their shows

like a compulsive porn viewer

who never gets off


She’s been impersonating Elvis since she was a little girl

long before she understood her lesbianism


Her wife is tired of seeing Elvis impersonators

but understands that it is her partner’s passion

and passion must be respected




VFW Hall


We pushed our cheeks together

in the darkness of the Hall for the Veterans of Foreign Wars

Your cheek was always flushed hot


Earlier that day I’d bought you a turquoise ring

from the antique trader next door

We were thirteen

with absent parents


After sex in your house

I smoked one of your father’s old cigars

Every day you made up a different story

about what had happened to your father

your mother

what had happened to you

to me

That about covered it


Family Services were lax in those days

in that place

They accepted our stories

and never bothered us again


I was a thief

I stole enough for both of us

I knew kid stuff would not stick to my record

I could make a new start later


That’s what we both told ourselves

and later, it sort of worked out

poems by Mitchell Grabois

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